Lip Service or In-Service

2017-11-08T12:06:18+00:00November 9, 2017|
Reading Time: 6 minutes

I sat starry-eyed and on the edge of my seat in the front row to hear from the CEO of an organisation. I wanted to be inspired, motivated and made to feel like I was part of a great culture. Unfortunately, as he began to address the team, I immediately sensed a lack of sincerity. Yes, he told us WHY it was important to focus on the customer, and WHAT specifically we should focus on, but at no stage did he tell us HOW to be more customer centric. The words were words I had heard before. The statements and promises were fleeting and lacked any substance. I did not understand what I was meant to do in my role to contribute to a customer-centric culture, and I am sure he didn’t know what it looked like in action.

  • The WHY was his why, and I felt no connection to it.
  • The WHAT was unrealistic and irrelevant to our business; therefore, I did not believe him.
  • The HOW was not described, and I left feeling confused.

It was a text book company address: all theory and no practice. There was nothing unique or real about what I heard.

Time revealed that this organisation was paying lip service to creating a customer-centric culture versus a company that genuinely orientates their organisation and decision making in-service to their customers.

Lip Service Leaders Vs In-Service Leaders

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, lip service is a noun that means ‘support for someone or something that is expressed by someone in words but that is not shown in that person’s actions’.

I recently met with an organisation in the financial sector. We discussed the difference between company cultures that talk about being customer centred and the few companies that actually walk in the shoes of that statement (those who make it real and demonstrate it every day).

The organisation shared a story about a customer with whom it had a 30-year relationship. The customer had written a letter that highlighted how the bank had supported her through her life’s ups and downs: marital splits, bankruptcy, family education, and business decisions. However, she went on to explain how she felt she had lost that personal connection, when a recent generic, automated response to a credit card application declined her with a standard statement around her being a risk to the business.I recently met with an organisation in the financial sector. We discussed the difference between company cultures that talk about being customer centred and the few companies that actually walk in the shoes of that statement (those who make it real and demonstrate it every day).

The letter was given to the Chief Customer Officer who very quickly stated ‘this letter is not who we are’. He then called the customer directly to address the situation. This was a natural response on behalf of an executive who demonstrated a genuine culture of customer centricity.I recently met with an organisation in the financial sector. We discussed the difference between company cultures that talk about being customer centred and the few companies that actually walk in the shoes of that statement (those who make it real and demonstrate it every day).

The organisation shared a story about a customer with whom it had a 30-year relationship. The customer had written a letter that highlighted how the bank had supported her through her life’s ups and downs: marital splits, bankruptcy, family education, and business decisions. However, she went on to explain how she felt she had lost that personal connection, when a recent generic, automated response to a credit card application declined her with a standard statement around her being a risk to the business.I recently met with an organisation in the financial sector. We discussed the difference between company cultures that talk about being customer centred and the few companies that actually walk in the shoes of that statement (those who make it real and demonstrate it every day).

The truth about how customer centric a culture is lies in a company’s response to such situations. When a customer highlights an area where a company is falling below average, it should be shared with the whole organisation. This is in the spirit of learning from mistakes and a willingness to improve as opposed to washing over a story and filing it in a complaints folder.

The truth about how customer centric a culture is lies in a company’s response to such situations.

What is a Customer-Centric Culture?

Customer service is anything but routine. When we are dealing with customers we are dealing with humans; therefore, a customer-centric culture is defined by the actions of all employees and the customer’s feelings towards the quality of their experience.

From a customer’s point of view, their feelings towards a company brand reflects the culture of an organisation. Every employee in your organisation can affect your company’s brand, and not just at the frontline closest to the customer—from anywhere. The best way to build a customer-centric brand is to build the right culture.

In Zappos Experience, Joseph A. Michelli (2011) unapologetically states that culture should be a verb. He highlights how the leadership team nurtures its culture by focusing on the types of people it wants in an organisation, through to how it continually invests in and cares for the Zapponians once they are onboard. He articulates, throughout the book, that in order to have customer-centric cultures come to life through the behaviours and actions of every employee, it needs to be invested in, continually discussed and reviewed.

A customer-centric culture is defined by the actions of all employees and the customers feeling towards the quality of their experience.

I have learnt from years of working in multi-site organisations and large workforces that developing a scalable and meaningful customer-centric focus is not an easy task. While there may be a network desire to create a whole organisation customer culture, each site or store has its own culture; therefore, the work needs to start with the leaders of each unit of the business.

Most businesses in the service sector rarely stand still. For this reason, building a stronger customer- centric culture is a daily and continuous priority. When the going gets tough, companies invest in leaders to unite everyone on the same team journey. Dealing with individual behaviours is an ongoing effort; it cannot be addressed solely with a two-day conference. It’s neither a project nor an annual focus, but a continuum and cycle of various actions that occur all at once—every day.

Developing a Customer-Centric Culture

The model below shows the three components that make up an ongoing customer-centric culture.

To help channel efforts into these three areas, start by looking at the engagement of employees generally and how happy they feel about their workplace. Then turn your attention to how aligned the customer service interactions are to the values and purpose of the organisation. Last, make sure everyone owns the customer experience by being mindful of what quality experiences they are creating and ensure they know what behaviour and actions to take to be customer centric in their role.

Building a stronger customer-centric culture is a daily and continuous priority.

Customer centricity is a new business driver. Companies that give equal weight to measuring customer centricity alongside financial results, quality, safety, and risk have a better chance of shifting the dial towards creating customers for life.

You can do a quick evaluation of whether you are in an organisation that pays lip service or customer centricity or is in-service to your customers, by asking yourself the following three questions:

  1. Who owns customer centricity in an organisation?

 The answer is simple: anyone and everyone. If the managing director is not on board, there is no customer-centric culture. If the cleaner is not on board, there is no customer-centric culture. If both the managing director and the cleaner use different language and talk about their customers differently, there is no customer-centric culture.

Solution:

Be unrelenting, unapologetic, and obsessed about the customer. Put it on everyone’s agenda.

  1. How do you align your culture to your desired standard of customer service?

Align your values to your customers service approach. Explain what customer centricity looks like through behaviours and ensure those behaviours reflect the core values of the organisation. Values are what we do when we are at our best. They can be a handy internal compass to help all employees with decision making. Values are what enables an experience to maintain a certain quality.

Solution:

Define what ‘good’ looks like in customer service interactions. Show your staff how to be customer centric in their roles, and always relate them back to the company values … ‘That’s the way we do things around here’.

  1. How do you get a customer-centric culture across multiple sites and stores when you have mini cultures within a large organisation?

Each mini culture may have its unique quirks and nuances. This cannot be changed or replaced, and we have to expect that every human interaction with a customer will be different and, therefore, the experience will different. It is realistic to strive for a level of consistent quality of experience that can be achieved across multiple sites. A quality of experience is determined by how the customer is made to feel during their interaction. Regardless of the mini cultures within a large organisation, everyone can aspire to create the same consistent positive feeling for a customer.

Engaging team members is a continual focus and only by having multiple touch points within a calendar year such as face to face meetings, conference calls, digital applications, and video communications will a message and desired actions begin to stick in a company.

Solution:

Plan the calendar year with various activities that blend learning experiences with theory. A two-day conference or an e-learning platform alone will not cut the mustard; it’s the sum of many parts that create the movement you desire.

In Reality

On a particular day, I was talking to a customer experience director of a large automotive company and he shared with me his views of how to reach a scalable, multi-site operation when striving for customer centricity. He reflected on a story where by employee X was a potential flight risk. He attended their company conference and returned with a new attitude. The service leader who had been battling with employee X’s attitude for several months noticed an immediate change in his behaviours towards his team mates and customers. When the service leader asked employee X for the reason behind the change, he shared that the conference helped him break down some myths he believed about the business. He was disillusioned with what the company stood for and had been refreshingly reminded by many people that this was not their reality. The service leader was inspired by this changed employee and this alone was enough for the service leader to take note and pay attention to his own actions and behaviours.

It was the beginning of a transformation for this individual and, therefore, for his team at the dealership. Over the following months the same messages that were heard at the conference were reinforced in various ways and eventually became a new way of doing things.

The Upside

One of the anecdotal impacts of a customer-centric culture is when leaders realise the need to change. Let’s face it, some leaders get in the way of other team members who are doing a great job, for example, putting too many processes in place, creating an environment of red tape, being too concerned about self-promotion or having to justify their decisions. None of these are seen through the eyes of the customer and they make it difficult for employees to deliver quality experiences.

When a leader sees the positive impact of a customer-centric culture on employees, it shifts their mindsets, just like it did for employee X at the car dealership. You see, influencing a culture doesn’t always filter from the top. In fact, the more powerful influencers are your peers and colleagues who share their own experiences and show through actions the positive impact it has on their day to day experiences in the workplace.

There is an extraordinarily powerful accumulative advantage that takes place when we see new behaviours embedded into a culture. This opportunity will only present itself if there is an ongoing commitment, with no end date and everyone has ownership towards contributing a customer-centric culture.

Henry Ford sums it up nicely, ‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success’.

 

Jaquie Scammell

‘Why serve when you can inspire’

References
Michelli, J. A. (2011). Zappos Experience. Schaum’s Outlines.